A few days ago, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw someone complaining that her child had just radically changed his Christmas list. “He wants a dozen laser tag guns now! And I just finished all of the wrapping!” the person whined.
I get it. These small details can be annoying when we have a million things going on. But do you know what it made me realize?
At that point, five days before Christmas, I had purchased just one present for each of my children. ONE.
Last year it wasn’t like this at all. I planned ahead and bought most of my presents in November, so when Shawn was in the hospital, the presents just had to be wrapped. Shawn’s work colleagues did some of them (as a side note, they put hilarious post-it notes on top to identify them like, “an adorable little puppy that purrs when you rub its tummy!!!”) and my neighbors did the rest. On Christmas Eve, my aunt Nancy and my Dad helped to arrange all of the stockings and make everything perfect.
Part of the reason I went all out was that Christmas morning was so important to Shawn. He loved the drama of it all, and like many fathers, every Christmas Eve he stayed up into the wee hours of the night putting together toys and setting the scene. He loved those first moments of Christmas morning and reveled in the joy he saw in the kids’ faces. I worried at times that we were overindulging the kids, and that they’d get greedy with all of the presents that they received.
But I’m glad I sat back and let Shawn have his way on this one, because I will always have vivid memories of watching him every Christmas morning. Not the kids. Him.
Because he really was a kid at heart.
In fact, he was the person who loved toys the most in our house. Sometimes he’d come home in November after stopping by the toy store – alone – with a toy for one of the kids. I always scolded him and made sure he put it away for the holidays. But other times I couldn’t stop him, and I’d come home from an afternoon off and find out he’d taken the kids to the toy store in December.
I was always mad at him for that. Not let’s-fight-in-front-of-the-kids mad, just annoyed that he was getting them presents for no reason weeks before Christmas. “Have some restraint!” I remember saying to him one year.
But do you know what the kids remember vividly about him? How much fun they had at the toy store when he took them. In fact, last week when I remembered that I had no presents for the kids, I sat down with Claire and Austin and asked them what they wanted, and they brought up those trips with their dad.
“I don’t really need anything,” Claire said, “but remember how Dad used to take us to the toy store? Maybe we could do that.”
“Ya!” Austin chimed in. “We always went to the diner that’s next door first and then we would go get something at the toy store. Can we do that?”
That seemed easy enough. I wrote out some “coupons” for a visit to the diner and the toy store, and they’ll open them tomorrow. It felt like a piece of Shawn was there when I did it.
But as of that evening four days ago, I still didn’t have much else for them to open. I’d do some shopping over the weekend, I figured.
That night, after I put the kids to bed, I was talking to my dad. “Oh,” he said, “there’s a bunch of presents in the basement. Someone dropped them off on the front porch today and there wasn’t a tag, so I hid them downstairs. Do you know who it was?”
I didn’t. I went to the basement and found over a dozen wrapped gifts. There was just one tag that read, “Enjoy.”
I started crying. I had no idea who it was, but it was like someone had read my mind that day. Even the handwriting seemed unfamiliar. I turned the wrapped packages over in my hands and marveled at the fact that someone had done this for my kids.
“So who was it?” my dad asked later.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I mean, I guess it must have been Santa.”
It sounds like I made this whole story up, but it is the honest truth. Santa came to our house. Just like Shawn would have done if he was here.
Merry Christmas, everyone.